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National Film Board of Canada and Rhizome collaborate to broaden the technical capabilities and impact of Webrecorder, Rhizome’s leading-edge, easy-to-use tool set for web archiving.


December 18, 2018 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Rhizome are pleased to announce a growing technical collaboration to ensure sustained access to important interactive digital films and web-based artworks in the NFB’s collection. A federal cultural agency within the portfolio of the Canadian Heritage Department, the NFB is a public producer and distributor of Canadian content. As one of the foremost creative centres in the world, the NFB provides its filmmakers and artists a space in which to create engaging stories for audiences at home and abroad. Rhizome is a pioneering organization for born-digital art and culture and a longtime affiliate of the New Museum in New York City. Webrecorder, a project of Rhizome, is an open source web archiving platform used to collect, store and share interactive captures of web pages.

The result of this partnership will be significant enhancements to Webrecorder such that it becomes an ideal tool for meeting the NFB’s needs as it works to preserve more than 100 interactive web-based productions in its collection. Through this project, Canada’s audiovisual legacy will be better preserved and safeguarded for generations to come, even in the midst of major changes in web technology such as the discontinuation of support for Adobe Flash Player, scheduled to occur in 2020. All users of Webrecorder will be able to benefit from the enhancements made through this collaboration.

Webrecorder remains the only free-to-use, open source web archiving platform of its kind and is hosted online at webrecorder.io. Software development is core to Rhizome’s multi-tiered support of born-digital art and culture. Through this partnership, software developers at the NFB and Rhizome will enhance Webrecorder’s capacity to share fully interactive, high-fidelity archival copies of contemporary and legacy websites through emulation of fixed versions of popular web browsers. The NFB’s collection of interactive works for the web can be viewed at nfb.ca/interactive.

The NFB will also be integrating web archives created with Webrecorder in its innovative, state-of-the-art Media Asset Management (MAM) system. Custom built in partnership with Atempo Digital Archive, the MAM manages the NFB’s massive digital-assets collection, comprising six Petabytes of content. The NFB/Rhizome collaboration will demonstrate how free, open source tools can be greatly improved through cooperative work and implemented to meet complex institutional needs such as those of the NFB.

The NFB’s digitization-plan objective is to ensure sustainability and accessibility of its collection of 100 interactive web projects and 14,000 films, videos and born-digital productions. For both film and interactive web projects, the NFB applies the same preservation strategy on three levels: metadata, source assets and experience. The challenge of preserving the experience of the NFB’s wide variety of interactive web projects initiated the collaboration between the NFB and Rhizome. Finding a means of archiving and replaying the interactive experience of a project initially conceived for the web is instrumental in the NFB’s ongoing quest to push the boundaries of new technologies. The NFB R&D team has been working with Rhizome’s Webrecorder team for over a year to achieve its preservation objectives for its entire collection of interactive productions for the web.

Webrecorder’s development is made possible by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which has given Rhizome a two-year $1 million grant to help Webrecorder become a robust and fully sustainable initiative. Rhizome also offers Webrecorder Player, a free desktop application that allows users to access their web archives offline on Mac, Windows, or Linux (freely downloadable via GitHub).

Rhizome’s software program also provides Python Wayback (pywb), the low-level web archive engine powering Webrecorder and the popular http://oldweb.today/ service to browse multiple web archives through emulated legacy web browsers. The organization also leads research on highly scalable emulation infrastructure for legacy digital art on the public web, based on the Emulation as a Service framework.

At Rhizome, Webrecorder’s advancement is complemented by ongoing research into the cultural impact of web archiving and preservation practices. These activities include the deployment of Webrecorder throughout the artistic program, namely to make older internet art accessible again for “Net Art Anthology,” an online exhibition program; and as inspiration for “digital social memory” research, which culminated in 2018 in a multi-day forum on ethics and archiving the web at the New Museum.

About the NFB

In a world flooded with content, the NFB is an anchor of acclaimed, relevant and creative productions. A living archive of the Canadian experience, the NFB’s collection contains animated, documentary and interactive productions that reach millions and are respected for their social impact and commitment to a more just world. The NFB’s collection of 14,000 productions is a living archive of Canada’s past, an invaluable resource for Canadians today, and a vital record of our history for future generations. Ensuring its preservation and accessibility is a central part of the NFB’s mandate, and one that the NFB fulfills by creating and adopting industry-leading technologies.

The rapid evolution of media-production and preservation tools has demanded a nimble and sophisticated approach to change throughout the NFB’s history, especially as this publicly owned collection includes films made decades ago on now-obsolete formats, half-a-million still photographs, a massive sound library, 6,000 educator’s guides and, in recent years, web-based, VR creations and installations. Hundreds more are created each year, often using technologies for which preservation standards are yet to be firmly established. As a senior member of an international community of organizations dedicated to the preservation and restoration of story-based media, the NFB has demonstrated its leadership by digitizing its entire collection, creating, in the process, a new model for future management of these cultural treasures.

About Rhizome

Rhizome champions born-digital art and culture through artist-centered programs that commission, present, and preserve art made with and through digital networks and tools. Online since 1996, the organization is an affiliate of the iconic New Museum in New York City.

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Associated Links

Canadian Heritage Department
Atempo Digital Archive
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Media Relations

For the NFB
Lily Robert | Director, Communications and Public Affairs, NFB
C.: 514-296-8261 | l.robert@nfb.ca

For Rhizome
Anna Perricci | Associate Director, Strategic Partnerships

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